I like to take Snoopy to horse shows and compete in trail. He seems to love being there, judging by what I'd call his "happy energy" level, and believe it or not, I like that feeling of stepping into the arena in front of the judges and trying to do well.
No, I'm not a masochist.
Still, knowing Snoopy's limitations, I don't take him to a lot of shows. Four to five a year is all, once a month from February through August. Because we're both kind of newbies, we both perform at the novice level, which means relatively easy courses with poles on the ground.
I say "relatively easy" because they're still hard for us. We do all right, and it's tremendous fun, but we don't win a lot.
In August, the local AQHA division hosts "The Pink Show", to honor those we've lost and those who have survived cancer. As a matter of fact, my main character's horse trainer in MURDER ON THE HOOF, is named after one of the wonderful women we lost to breast cancer, Emily Jungers.
The PCHA Trail Classic is held at the Pink Show. It's three days of really hard trail courses (for amateurs only), and you don't know your placing until they give out the awards on the last day. Each day you get a little gift with your draw. The courses are designed by Tim "the Trail Man" Kimura, who designs all the trail courses for all of the top shows in the country.
I've never been in a place, skill-wise, to compete in this. It's entirely possible that I'm still not at that level. But for the first time, I wanted to try it.
I discussed it with Niki. The courses would have lots of twists and turns and raised poles - all potentially hard on a horse's body. I never want to hurt Snoopy. We developed a strategy that involved the chiropractor, liniment, warm-ups, and lots of rest afterward.
I won't lie, those courses were brutal. So many transitions from the jog to the lope and back again. Intricate slow moves like side-passing on a pole and backing around a corner into a chute. Here's one of the patterns.
"All I want you to aim for is consistency," Niki told me. She prepared us both as much as she could, then turned us loose on the course.
Well, we were consistent all right. Each time, Snoopy broke from one of the lope-overs for at least one step. Each time, our back-ups got done by the skin of our teeth. Each time, I had to ride every inch of ground and could not let Snoopy take charge of what we were doing.
On Sunday, after the last horse left the course, we all lined up and waited for the results. Forty horses had entered the competition. I thought we'd be somewhere in the mid-twenties. Names kept being called. None of them were mine.
At 19th place, we were finally called. TOP TWENTY! In addition to a bucket of supplements for Snoopy, I won a really pretty pair of spurs.
So I spent a day to prepare my horse, then three days at a show, getting up early to drive for an hour to the venue and working outside in hellish heat. Every day I dressed up in jeans, suede chaps, a long-sleeved shirt, and a cowboy hat to do this. My internal organs felt like they were melting and sticking together. My eyebrows sweated.
It was so much fun, I want to do it again. Hmm... maybe I am a masochist.